EU ups pressure for global oil tanker controls

Transport ministers agree to push for early phase-out of single-hulled vessels within IMO

EU transport ministers yesterday agreed that single-hulled oil tankers should be phased out world-wide by 2015, just in time to put pressure on other members of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), whose environment committee is debating the issue in London this week.

Pressure for the current international deadline for an end to single-hulled tankers of 2026 to be brought forward has mushroomed since the Erika sinking off France last December. Within the EU, the European Commission has proposed a unilateral ban on single-hulled tankers by 2015 (ENDS Daily 22 March), greatly irritating the IMO, which feels that any new controls should be agreed globally (ENDS Daily 17 March).

Ministers' "common stance" in favour of a 2015 deadline relates to the IMO talks and not the Commission's draft directive, which has in any case still to receive its first reading from the European Parliament. Nevertheless, EU transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio yesterday reiterated earlier threats to pursue a unilateral phase-out if the IMO timetable is not brought forward sufficiently.

EU countries have taken some time to reach a consensus on a favoured target date. According to sources, the main sticking point has been objections from Greece, which owns half of the EU oil tanker fleet. In a concession to the Greeks, the EU position for the IMO talks exempts tankers with less than 5,000 tonnes oil capacity.

During their Luxembourg meeting, transport ministers also discussed other elements of the Commission's "Erika" proposals. A wide gap emerged between the Commission and the Council on how many more cargo ships should be subject to regular inspection and on whether there is a need for a European agency for maritime safety. According to an official, several member states argued that improvements in safety could best be achieved through existing national agencies. There was, however, preliminary agreement with the Commission's proposal to increase compensation payments for victims of oil pollution.

* In a related development, the Commission last week published a draft regulation proposing the creation of a single EU committee on maritime safety to replace five existing ones. A second draft regulation published last week aims at enabling member states to adopt new IMO rules quicker by ending a current requirement for governments to wait for EU-wide approval.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6423, and provisional minutes.

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